About three times a year we get to see a decent television production that once aired on local CBS stations (now ABC) and bears the Hallmark Hall of Fame emblem. Front of the Class is one of the more memorable titles in a string that have included dramas, comedies plus even the occasional costume film, and yes, the rare failure.
Being different seems like it may be a disease for young Brad Cohen. No one seems to want to be his friend at school because he is different – but he cannot control his unexplained shouts or “ticks” as he and his family refer to his bursts of uncontrollable emotion. His parents are divorced and his father cannot seem to understand him which leads twelve-year-old Brad to the assumption that his father is embarrassed of him while his mother (Patricia Heaton) never stops trying to find a cure for his unexplained behavior. She finds answers in the form of Tourettes Syndrome. Brad’s “constant companion” now has a name.
Now, ten years later, Brad (Jimmy Wolk) is a recent college grad and is searching for the opportunity to become a teacher – his dream occupation inspired by a former principal. Making a move to Atlanta where his father (Treat Williams) and stepmother now live, Brad finds constant conflicts with his father whom he has never yet repaired his relationship with, despite being surrounded with people who are reminding him to at least try. Overcoming odds is the one thing Brad is good at… but he didn’t know how many obstacles he’d have to beat.
This did not sound particularly appealing to me when I first read its synopsis but my family hardly ever misses these, so I decided to watch it regardless and I am pleased to say that once again I was surprised by the depth and magnificent storytelling talents this series has maintained (for the most part) over the years. Inspired by a true story, Front of the Class had the potential to be successful even before it aired since such stories usually make the better movies. Relationships are important whether it’s with family or someone you may want to build a family with, they are important to maintain. Brad is fortunate enough to be surrounded by many people who love him for who he is not what the disease has made him. During this story, Brad overcoming his “disability” was not easy, especially as a young boy who was a “target” for jokes and ridicule. We come to realize that Brad was blessed with two special women in his life; in his mother who never stops fighting to find the cause of Brad’s baffling twitches and his stepmother who is genuinely a wonderful lady who does have real affection for her husband’s children. Likewise his brother Jeff is wonderfully defensive of Brad. I enjoyed that about the story; the characters development and the relationships that continued to expand because of that.
Based on a book that I am assuming was taken from the true story, I cannot say how much of this movie is accurate or inaccurate to its subject matter but I can without question recommend this as an inspiring film. When seeing the Hallmark name associated to any film, we are assured that it will be reasonably family-appropriate. While Front of the Class is clean, it may be better viewed by adults and older teens who will not only be able to appreciate the film better but maybe take something away from it. In telling the story, veteran actors Williams and Heaton are both superb, but newcomer Jimmy Wolk is the scene-stealer; he gives an excellent portrayal. The supporting cast is also excellent including Brad’s young students who were all quite good in their comparatively minor roles. Front of the Class manages to be comedic, challenging and even unexpectedly heartbreaking. The scenes involving Brad teaching are heartwarming and the impact he has on his students are lovely to watch unfold and the way they give back without caring what disabilities he may have are touching. In learning to never accept defeat, this journey is a thought provoking one. If you missed this premiere on TV, try to get a copy as it is well worth seeing. Lessons are there for the taking.
(Concerning Content: A young boy apparently writes profanities on a wall [off-camera], it is said that he has ADHD. Some mild thematic material is in the form of Brad’s disability as a large factor in the film; another minor but important character has a life threatening disease that eventually does take their life. It is rated TVPG)